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A statistical profile of birth registration in Africa

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Released on the occasion of World Children’s Day 2020 at a High-level Political Dialogue Meeting of the African Union on Birth Registration, this brochure presents the latest available estimates of the number of unregistered children in Africa. It also assesses progress over time and presents evidence for the amount of effort that will be needed in Africa to achieve universal birth registration by 2030.


Society first acknowledges a child’s existence and identity through birth registration. The right to be recognized as a person before the law is a critical step in ensuring lifelong protection and can facilitate access to all other rights.

A birth certificate is proof of that legal identity, and is the basis upon which children can establish a nationality, avoid the risk of statelessness, and seek protection from violence and exploitation. For example, proof of age is needed to help prevent child labour, child marriage and underage recruitment into the armed forces. A birth certificate may also be required to access services, in areas including health, education and justice.

The adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals by the United Nations General Assembly in September 2015 placed birth registration firmly on the international development agenda. It included a dedicated target (16.9) under Goal 16 – namely, to provide legal identity for all, including birth registration, by 2030. Complementing this is target 17.9, which calls for support in building the statistical capacity needed for strong national civil registration systems. Such systems produce vital statistics, which are foundational for achieving sustained human and economic development.

In accordance with the Sustainable Development Goals, UNICEF seeks to fulfil the promise of universal birth registration, ensuring a legal identity for every child by 2030.


AUGUST 2010: The First Conference of African Ministers Responsible for Civil Registration, held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was attended by over 40 ministers from the continent and resulted in a declaration and plan of action.

SEPTEMBER 2012: The Second Conference of African Ministers Responsible for Civil Registration was held in Durban, South Africa. It led to a strong resolution by ministers calling for reform of national civil registration and vital statistics systems across the continent. This commitment translated into a programme and policy document, Africa Programme for Accelerated Improvement of Civil Registration and Vital Statistics. The conference brought health ministries on board and advanced interoperability between civil registration and the health sector.

FEBRUARY 2015: The Third Conference of African Ministers Responsible for Civil Registration took place in Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire under the theme ‘Promoting the use of civil registration and vital statistics in support of good governance in Africa’. The focus was on innovation and new technology.

DECEMBER 2017: The Fourth Conference of African Ministers Responsible for Civil Registration hosted in Nouakchott, Mauritania was devoted to identifying ways forward in light of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Agenda 2063 for Africa.

SEPTEMBER 2018: The United Nations Deputy Secretary-General initiated the establishment of the UN Legal Identity Expert Group to ensure holistic installation and development of civil registration, vital statistics and identity management systems. The UN Legal Identity Agenda 2020-2030 was officially launched in Rome in May 2019 in preparation for the UN High-Level Political Forum, with the theme ‘Peaceful, just and inclusive societies – SDG 16 implementation and the path towards leaving no one behind’. The initial focus of the Legal Identity Agenda is Africa, with 13 pilot countries.

OCTOBER 2019: The Fifth Conference of African Ministers Responsible for Civil Registration on the theme ‘Innovative civil registration and vital statistics system: foundation for legal identity management’ was held in Lusaka, Zambia. The importance of civil registration systems for the realization of a legal identity for all was reaffirmed and the UN Legal Identity Agenda was introduced.